Buccaneers U16s pulled off one of the results of the season in an epic encounter against neighbours and this season’s Connacht U16 League champions, Ballinasloe.
At The Green, Creggs, last Saturday, Buccs performed heroics, playing some outstanding rugby to overcome the Ballinasloe side by 14 to 8, a team that they have never beaten in almost 10 years as a squad.
Ballinasloe started, as expected, with a lot of possession, and for the first 10 minutes of the game they practically owned the ball. But Buccaneers never panicked and in fact looked very much in control of their defence, and Ballinasloe became frustrated the longer the game went on.
The Buccs defence was led from the front, with some excellent tackling from Gavin Daly, Aaron Brady, Deema Feehan and Joe Henson in the forwards, while Adam Flanagan, Tom Shine and Eamon Martin defended aggressively in the back-line. Any time Ballinasloe kicked down field, the Buccaneers back three of Fergal Cunniffe, Olan Healy and Kieran Hurd defended and counter-attacked admirably.
Once Buccaneers got to grips with the pace of the game they played the territories, with excellent tactical kicking from out-half, Ruaidhri Fallon, frustrating the Ballinasloe attack on many occasions. This enabled Buccs to get their hands on the ball, where their forwards attacked with pace and aggression, setting the platforms for their exciting backs to display their attacking flair and ability.
While ball-handling errors occurred on both sides, Ballinasloe found it increasingly difficult to cope with the intensity of Buccaneers attacking. It paid dividends after approximately 15 minutes when prop Egan crashed over to touch down for Buccaneers first try, after great attacking work off the fringes from Fallon, Shine and Fogarty. Out-half Fallon completed the conversion to make it 7-0 in favour of Buccaneers.
This score certainly did not have any negative effect on the Ballinasloe outfit. On the 25 minute mark, as Buccaneers worked their way out of their own 22, with maybe a little over-exuberance in their play, a missed pass dropped right in the path of the Ballinasloe number 10, Mathew Devine, who sprinted in unopposed from the Buccs 22, touching down almost under the posts. Devine was faced with the easiest of conversation kicks to level the scores, but the accomplished kicker bizarrely missed to leave the scores at 7-5 in favour of Buccs.
However, the half was not yet finished, and another indiscretion from Buccs resulted in a penalty being awarded to Ballinasloe in a very kickable position. This time Devine made no mistake, slotting over the kick to leave the half-time score at 8-7 in favour of Ballinasloe.
The second half started very favourably for Buccaneers. They had much of the possession and were having the better of the exchanges in contact. This period gave the Athlone lads a lot of confidence and they continued to impose their aggressive, high intensity attacking style of play on their opponents.
While the County Galway team defended resolutely, Buccaneers continued with their own game plan, chipping away at the Ballinasloe team with phase upon phase of controlled attack. They were well rewarded in the 10th minute of the second half, with a move that ended in what was arguably the try of the season from this talented side.
Continued phases of attack from their forward pods down the right gave the perfect platform to let their backs loose down the open channels. Once the platform was set, Buccs scrum-half Flanagan seized the opportunity and flashed a pass to Fallon, who found Shine, and the centre found his midfield partner Martin in space. Martin had a lot of work to do, but used his excellent balance and footwork to beat three Ballinasloe defenders and score a fantastic try in the left corner. Fallon slotted over the most difficult of conversion kicks from the left-hand touch line, leaving the score line at 14-8 in favour of Buccaneers.
The close of the game was a topsy-turvy affair. While Buccs maintained the majority share of territory in the Ballinasloe half of the field, the westerners were always capable of making one of those match-winning breaks to steal the game from Buccs grasp, particularly from their back-row trio of John Claffey, Kyle Blackweir and Mark Mitchell. But Buccs again defended with aggression and composure, with every player committed to the cause for the remaining few minutes.
In an effort to maintain their grip on the game, Buccs introduced imposing winger, Aaron Oyoki, and impressive replacement props Evan McCormack and Adam Kennedy. All three players contributed to the win and will have a lot to offer to next season’s league and cup campaigns. In the end, the young Buccs held out with confidence.